We’re not going to lie — it’s pretty awesome seeing one of our first (and frequent) contributors celebrate the publication of his debut collection, a twenty-story set called All We Want Is Everything (from ARP books). To help mark the occasion, we asked Andrew to tell us all about the book. Plus we asked him about writing, editing, and Gonzo. From the Muppets. Hope you enjoy getting to know the man.

LF: Tell us about the book. How many stories make up the collection?

AS: All We Want is Everything is a collection of stories I’ve been putting together for the last two years or so. Twenty stories made it into the final draft. Most of these stories involve men and women in desperate situations, people existing on the fringes of burnt out cities and declining communities. Some of the stories venture into the surreal or grotesque, but I believe they are all grounded in very human wants and desires. These stories find people groping for even just a moment of peace. I find a lot more meaning in their struggles than in any kind of resolution. I find a lot in failure.

LF: Where does the title come from?

AS: It was just a strange turn of phrase for me, something I ended up believing after working a lot of shitty jobs with people who never really had much luck to start with in the first place. When you have very little, you may as well wish for everything. Starting from nothing leaves all your options open, gives you a dangerous sort of freedom, a frightening freedom to choose anything and nothing, to make mistakes, to choose the wrong things. All We Want is Everything expresses that reckless need and want. If the dream ain’t gonna come true, why not ask for everything?

LF: How did the collection find a home with Arbeiter Ring Publishing (ARP)?

AS: I actually just wanted to see if John K. Samson was interested in my work and if he would read some of my material—maybe let me know what he thought. It was totally unexpected when he asked to pick up the short story collection, but it was a very pleasant surprise. I had been aware of ARP for quite a while, but they hadn’t published a ton of fiction recently. However, they now have two more fiction titles lined up on the calendar—Roewan Crowe’s Quivering Land and Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love. Both are titles you should actively seek out once they are released.  I’m impressed with the various voices ARP brings to the table and really happy to be included alongside some other great authors in their backlist. You can find out more about ARP right here.

LF: ARP is run by John K. Samson, singer and songwriter of The Weakerthans. How was it working with him?

AS: John is a very smart, kind guy who has a great eye and respect for other writers. I really appreciated the chance to work with him on the collection and get his input on my work. We initially started with about twenty five stories and trimmed the collection down from there.  John really embraced my work and I feel really comfortable working with ARP. He was very open about every decision and willing to talk through a lot of the work. I am really happy he was a part of this book becoming a reality.

LF: The cover is quite striking and appropriate for anyone familiar with your work. Where did the image come from?

AS: I’ve had that photo of the dogs kicking around for six or seven years. I think it was originally from an old photo issue of VICE. It is from a set taken in Russia by Leigh Ledare. He’s a pretty prolific photographer with a lot of great unsettling work out there. We were able to get in contact with him and he was generous enough to give us the rights to use the photo. I’ve had those two dogs haunting my office for the last six years at least, so it was pretty incredible to actually have them become a part of this project. At this point, I can’t really see it with any other cover. That is one of the great things about working with a small press like ARP—you get to be involved in each decision and your opinion holds some sway. Somehow, I got lucky enough to snag those dogs.

LF: How many of these stories appeared elsewhere? Did they go through another round of editing to fit the collection?

AS: The majority of these stories have appeared in literary magazines and journals, but a lot of them were pretty limited runs or only available in certain countries. “Mutations” was my first paid publication and it went up on Joyland back in the summer of 2011. It then appeared again in Joyland Retro Vol. 2, a print issue of the magazine. I really appreciated the work Emily Schultz put into the story with me and it’s still one of those stories that I show to people when they ask about my work. I am incredibly thankful to all the editors who saw something in these twisted little stories, the people who helped trim them down without sanding off all of the sharp edges. I have had stories go up on online magazines which are still going strong and some that have puttered out. A few of my stories have ended up in Canadian literary magazines, and my bank account thanks them profusely. I want the stories to be read, so getting them out there has always been a priority. Now that they are all in one place, no one needs to scrounge the internet.

LF: You’re also at work (or finished) a novel. What can you tell us about that?

AS: When I was completing my MA, I wrote a very violent, volatile novel about small town skinheads in Southern Ontario in the late 1980s. The novel is called WASTE. It combined drugs, the Lorax, escaped zoo animals, butchers, ZZ-Top, abandoned mental hospitals, bowling alleys and industrial wastelands into a sickly crime saga. Most of the characters are fairly despicable human beings, but I like to try and find the little bits of humanity left inside them, try to draw out whatever light I can. It’s a fun book, but it’s also a pretty grimy story. Some people have suggested taking a shower every hundred pages or so to wash away the dirt. I prefer to wallow in it if I can. I can always shower tomorrow.

LF: In addition to writing, you also edit for The Puritan. Do you find that helps your own writing / makes you a better writer?

AS: It definitely helps to see what else is out there, what other people are doing. We have published some really great, strange stories with The Puritan recently. I like to engage with other authors who don’t really write in the same style or subject matter as myself. We get a lot of submissions from across the States and Canada—that kind of diversity can be hard to find if you are just focused on what’s going on in Toronto, or even Ontario. Exposing yourself to that wider reader experience only makes you stronger in the long run. You learn from others—what works and what doesn’t. When a story is not working for you, you learn to ask why and find some deeper problems inside the work. All of this flows back to your own understanding of what you do—often I am making the very same mistakes. An outsider perspective can really illuminate some flaws you won’t notice on your own.

LF: You gave us a playlist of songs to go with the stories in the collection, but what role does music play in your writing?

AS: Music is a constant when I am writing—it is almost always playing in my apartment. I write a lot in public libraries and without headphones you are pretty much doomed to suffer in those places. Music allows me to create my own space, a bubble I can create within while the chaos of a public library in Oshawa rages all around me. I often listen to the same playlist over and over while working on a bigger project. Sometimes a single album or song will accompany me while I am working on a single story. It helps establish a frame of mind and sense of place for me. Without music, I may be driven to distraction. Eventually, I sometimes forget the music is even playing. It just becomes a part of the background, the world I am attempting to create from scratch.

LF: A lot of your characters, or their worlds, are pretty unfavorable. What draws you to that type of story?

AS: I like when things happen, I suppose. I like when there are stakes for my characters beyond an awkward conversation or misinterpreted text message. There are people who can pull off those stories and make the subject matter compelling, but I am definitely not one of them. I enjoy stories with a bit of struggle and vice—I write the kind of thing I would want to read. A lot of the jobs I’ve worked in the past have been a little grimy and the stories I heard on the job would filter into my fiction. I have a certain affection for people who seem to be trapped in unfavourable situations, people who keep making the same mistakes over and over. I find some humour in tragedy I guess, but that humour comes back to recognizing these sad, stumbling characters as human beings first.

We are too often encouraged to write people off as monsters. We are encouraged to build fences between communities, to limit our interactions, to retreat into our protective spheres. We act surprised and shocked when these bubbles of safety are punctured or deflated by the unexpected and the unknown. I want to rupture that vein of contempt, to make it a little more difficult to walk away clean. I want the reader to put the book down and wipe their hands before they eat.

LF: Who are some of your favourite writers, both past and present?

AS: Currently, I read a lot of authors who’ve published their work online. I really enjoy reading Roxane Gay’s work, which always seems to be everywhere. Ethel Rohan is another author who has stories all over the place online and I seem to be continually drawn to her stories. Stories with something at stake, with desire and desperation laced between the words really have a pronounced effect on me when I am reading. I’ve also recently enjoyed some of Jim Shepard’s stuff and the work of Felix Gilman, who writes a kind of madcap fantasy/alternate history of the American West. Also, the now sadly departed Mudluscious Press left us with an amazing novel in the form of Robert Kloss’ The Alligators of Abraham. If you can track down a copy, do so now. Be prepared for a powerful, poetic take on America and the Civil War, covered in blood and swallowed whole.

When it comes to the past, I am a big fan of the recently departed Harry Crews. I don’t think all of his novels were great “literature” or that he’s going to be anyone’s favourite, but if you read his work, especially a book like A Feast of Snakes he just did not give a fuck about whether his story would be acceptable or not. He wrote the books he wanted to write, the narratives that interested him at the time, whether they were messy, traumatic or just plain twisted. His work really pushed a lot of boundaries, but it wasn’t written for that explicit purpose. It’s kind of like—if you need to explicitly tell me something is satire, it probably isn’t. If you have to explicitly tell me you are being transgressive, you probably aren’t. Harry Crews wasn’t pondering how far he could push the line, he was burning right through it.

LF: You’re fairly active on social media, especially Twitter. How have found that in terms of building an audience and a network?

AS: I try to approach it in a genuine manner. Actual ‘networking’ is something that kind of rankles me. I follow and add people with work who interest me. If I am submitting to a journal or press, I had better be aware of who and what they publish. If I actually enjoy someone’s work, I let them know. Finding the right measure of promotion makes sense too. I try not to spam my feed with links to my work or offers, but I don’t draw away from letting people know what I am up to—it is a delicate balance between confidence and humility. Occasionally, you will slip and fall onto one side or the other. I don’t have a huge Twitter following, but I do feel like I have met some great readers and writers through social media that I could not have connected with in any other manner. Actually expressing genuine appreciation for someone’s work goes a lot further than just adding another two hundred people to a list. Actually reading a journal goes a lot further than browsing the submission page and hitting send. The network you build should have some firm foundations—the people who you actively want to engage with, the people you want to see succeed.

LF: Any advice for writers trying to get their stories or collections picked up?

AS: A lot of people make a living off giving out writing advice. Talking about it might actually be easier than actually doing it in the first place. What I will say is make sure you frontload the manuscript. Your best work should lead and catch the reader. Make them excited, make them ask for more. Don’t worry about fully sequencing the stories until after the collection has been picked up. You want to start out strong. Don’t give your reader a chance to grow bored or to set it down. They might not pick it back up again. And this bit is redundant, but I’ll say it again as so many others have already: Only send out your stories once they are ready, once you’ve written a couple drafts. The real writing begins once you start rewriting and revising. The edit is your source of power.

LF: What can we expect at the launch?

AS: You can expect some really great readings from young and amazing writers in Canada, who’ve written some extremely strong and compelling work. Spencer Gordon’s COSMO (Coach House Books) is an incredible read, filled with pop cultural ephemera mercilessly skewered on every sentence. Line after line, his collection remains hilarious and slightly menacing. He’s a great reader and he’ll bring some powerful energy to the whole affair. I look forward to an expression of his WWE roots. Suzannah Showler’s poetry collection will be coming out next spring from ECW, but her chapbook is already available through Odourless Press.  Her work has a great humour intertwined with some heavy dread. Emma Healey, whose first book of poetry Begin with the End in Mind is also from ARP, is coming all the way from Montreal to show us how it’s done. If you have not read her book yet, you are behind.  From the first page on, she’ll draw you right into the web she’s weaving. I may also show up to do some reading at the launch, talk a little about the book and drink profusely. There will be many copies of the collection there and I would like to sell them all. You can also probably say hi to my Mom. She would like that.

LF: Any other launch parties / readings being planned?

AS: Not a ton of other events yet, but there may be something in the works between ARP and Fernwood Publishing later this summer. I was in a collection called Everything is So Political that came out earlier this year, filled with fiction from all kinds of Canadian writers, including my friend Matt Loney. The story “Stray Dogs” was originally in Riddle Fence and involves a prison photographer and some frozen killing fields. No idea if it will come together yet, but I enjoy collaborating with other presses and authors. It’s not much fun hiding in a bubble by yourself.

In July, I will be heading down to Vermont to be a part of the Renegade Reading Series, a new venture put together by some great American writers, Angela Palm and Jessica Hendry-Nelson. It seems like a pretty awesome event and I am super grateful to all the American friends I’ve met along the way since I started putting my work out there just a couple years ago. I met a lot of great folks at AWP in Boston. AWP can be an amazing experience if you do it the right way—connecting with people based on your genuine enthusiasm and enjoyment of their work, taking a true interest in smaller presses you may have read or only heard about, and actively engaging with people at their tables, at readings, in the bars. I really appreciated the friendships I made down in the States and I’m excited by that spirit of collaboration.

LF: Your current LF story (which is also in the collection), A Bird In The Hand Is Worthless really embodies your idea of “people groping for even just a moment of peace” — what can you tell us about that story, for people who haven’t read it yet?

AS: The story involves the narrator and his cousin attempting to sell a stolen TV to help pay for the narrator's legal fees, stemming from his imminent divorce. It springs from a story I heard about a coworker's wife running off with a country music star she met at the Havelock Country Jamboree, hosted in Havelock, ON ever summer. It's the country's largest country music festival and things can get out of hand. She took off on tour with this county star and ended up leaving this guy at home with his kids. None of these details can be substantiated, but it stuck with me for years after I heard the story. Apparently, he was using Facebook to track her photos on the tour, which he would use to try and win custody of the kids. Messy, sad, kind of funny in a terrible and tragic way — those are the stories that stick with me. We’re all idiots, so it's fun to bask in that a bit. Even when you are laughing, you realize these characters are human, flawed, whatever. A lot of the jokes and horrible things I do to the people in my stories comes from a place of love more than anything else. I don't know if that makes sense, but that’s how it feels.


Pen or pencil?

Pen — you should leave your mistakes where they are.

Bookmarks or bus transfers?

Bus transfers.

Coke or Pepsi?

Coke to melt the copper in my belly.

Django or Reservoir Dogs?

The one about Madonna.

Kanye or Jay-Z?

Yeezus in all the terrible glory.

Cheese or bacon?

Pigs are my people.

City or country?

City, but not the fun kind.

Walter White or Jesse Pinkman?


Kermit or Gonzo?

Gonzo. I too have a strange nose.

Crime or punishment?


LF: Thanks. See you at the launch.


andrew f.
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